Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cornel West Says that Dr. King is Weeping From His Grave Because of President Obama's Cowardice

I am surprised that more folks are not talking about the following editorial "Dr King Weeps from his Grave" in Thursday's NY Times.

And Brother Cornel wonders why President Obama hasn't invited him to the White House? Being a trouble making truth teller comes with little love and dap from the HNIC.

I remain uncomfortable about the Invisible Manesque battle royal aspects of the Cornel West vs Obama fight. But, we live in the age of the Black super public; what is a time when private black talk in the black counter-public has apparently attained full obsolescence.

In one of our salons from this week we had a great talk about the way the Tea Party GOP racializes President Obama through the use of symbolic racism. There I asked, how do we situate Barack Obama as the first black Chief Executive relative to the Civil Rights Movement?

West is trying to offer an answer. What is yours?


THE Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was to be dedicated on the National Mall on Sunday — exactly 56 years after the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi and 48 years after the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (Because of Hurricane Irene, the ceremony has been postponed.)

These events constitute major milestones in the turbulent history of race and democracy in America, and the undeniable success of the civil rights movement — culminating in the election of Barack Obama in 2008 — warrants our attention and elation. Yet the prophetic words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel still haunt us: “The whole future of America depends on the impact and influence of Dr. King.”

Rabbi Heschel spoke those words during the last years of King’s life, when 72 percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks disapproved of King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to eradicate poverty in America. King’s dream of a more democratic America had become, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism.” He called America a “sick society.” On the Sunday after his assassination, in 1968, he was to have preached a sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell.”

King did not think that America ought to go to hell, but rather that it might go to hell owing to its economic injustice, cultural decay and political paralysis. He was not an American Gibbon, chronicling the decline and fall of the American empire, but a courageous and visionary Christian blues man, fighting with style and love in the face of the four catastrophes he identified.

Militarism is an imperial catastrophe that has produced a military-industrial complex and national security state and warped the country’s priorities and stature (as with the immoral drones, dropping bombs on innocent civilians). Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.

Racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen in the prison industrial complex and targeted police surveillance in black and brown ghettos rendered invisible in public discourse. Arbitrary uses of the law — in the name of the “war” on drugs — have produced, in the legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s apt phrase, a new Jim Crow of mass incarceration. And poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.

The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.

As the talk show host Tavis Smiley and I have said in our national tour against poverty, the recent budget deal is only the latest phase of a 30-year, top-down, one-sided war against the poor and working people in the name of a morally bankrupt policy of deregulating markets, lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned. Our two main political parties, each beholden to big money, offer merely alternative versions of oligarchic rule.

The absence of a King-worthy narrative to reinvigorate poor and working people has enabled right-wing populists to seize the moment with credible claims about government corruption and ridiculous claims about tax cuts’ stimulating growth. This right-wing threat is a catastrophic response to King’s four catastrophes; its agenda would lead to hellish conditions for most Americans.

King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism because we too often fear the challenge he embraced. Our greatest writer, Herman Melville, who spent his life in love with America even as he was our most fierce critic of the myth of American exceptionalism, noted, “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished than an architectural finial.”

King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

In concrete terms, this means support for progressive politicians like Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles County supervisor; extensive community and media organizing; civil disobedience; and life and death confrontations with the powers that be. Like King, we need to put on our cemetery clothes and be coffin-ready for the next great democratic battle.

Cornel West, a philosopher, is a professor at Princeton.


Plane Ideas said...

CWest..A Free Black Man in cemetery clothes and coffin-ready...The Uniform for WARN and the one I wear 24/7...

Comrade PhysioProf said...

It blew my mind that West referred to Melville as "our greatest writer". Melville is my favorite author, and yet as a privileged urban white dude academic, it had never occurred to me that his writing could be inspiring to revolutionary sentiment.

Pragmatic Realist said...

I appreciate the thoughts here and your calling Dr. West's article to our attention.

brotherbrown said...

I don't like prognosticating what some historical figure might have done or said; some people would have you believe MLK would be a conservative republican were he alive today. But if you wanna go there, what would MLK make of the poverty tour, of West and Smiley?

I do wish Obama had made different choices than he has in some specific areas: 1) the Stimulus was not big enough nor long enough; Obama was more concerned about midterm elections and couldn't see how deep the need is. 2) healthcare reform only makes since with portability, a public option, and some protections for consumers who get sick; portability never was in the package, public option was withdrawn in the spirit of compromise, and most of the provisions kick in in 2014. 3) Wars! What's the mission now, Mr. President?

How can the President begin to get on the track I hoped he would? If he raises $100 million for his campaign, give at least 10% to charity. Start there.

brotherbrown said...

Oops!! Healthcare makes "sense" not "since"

nomad said...

I will probaly have more to say later, after my brain cells fireup. In the meantime I will point out support for my argument that Obama is working against the best interests of his constituents. And he is doing it intentionally, the closet Republican.

"Obama is choosing to pursue a policy of foreclosures and bank bailouts not because of any grand corporate scheme. He just wants to. He thinks it’s the right thing to do, and he’s doing it. If you don’t think it’s the right thing to do, then you shouldn’t be disappointed in him any more than you might have been disappointed in Bush. Obama is not trying to do the opposite of what he’s doing, he’s not repeatedly suckered by Republicans, and he isn’t naive or stupid. Obama is simply doing what he thinks is right."

Plantsmantx said...

You're right, Nomad. He's not stupid or cowardly. In fact, he's very shrewd, and has an amazing ability to put his ego aside. He's not being intimidated into accepting outcomes he doesn't want. He's pretending that he's being intimidated into accepting outcomes that he does want.

nomad said...

"Being a trouble making truth teller"

I have to believe that were Dr. King alive he would be criticizing Obama in the same terms as West. Indeed it is West that manifests King's legacy rather than Obama. What was King but the ultimate trouble making truth teller? He would have certainly been making more trouble over our present conditions, under this president, than Dr. West has a means of causing.

Plane Ideas said...


No one is the equal of MLK, Mandela, Parks, etc...I tire quickly when folks begin the compare dead icons with the living...Obama is not a dragonslayer to expect such is foolish...More importantly we are now in an era where the ability to influence and alter the course of events is now even beyond the ruling elite...This reality underscores Obama's impotence as well as the ruling elite...

The question we are left with is how we can managed our own orbits to create and develop collectives that have similar objectives and goals.. As Black folks we should marshall all of our collective liablilites and assets and then proceed accordingly..

Chasing down Obama now is a waste of time I rather focus my attention on those forces that impact us right now from cops to teachers to criminals to change agents withing the community all at a micro level..

This is how I view West, CD and others playing out thier roles in the collective

nomad said...

I'm not so much chasing him down as demythifying him. There is a myth that has become a serious impediment for black people this past 3 years. Somehow they conflate the images of MLK and BHO. I think it's important to undo that couple that linkage. Barack Obama is an illusion planted in the mind by clever "corporate" marketing. It is important to recognize this.

Plane Ideas said...


Sorry but I am not buying the "corporate god " theme....I never purchased the racial fiction that the 'white man" was all that and I won't buy your omnipotent corporate theme either..

My world is dominated but what I do in it not the agenda's of others..

I have no quarrel with the opinion that Obama was over sold and Black folks may have been on trhe kool aid but given our legacy of survival in America we are not robots or illusion suckers...Your view of Black folks is rather low a

parvenu said...

As black folks we must very careful who we listen to in this day and age of the super wealthy corporate oligarchs spreading money all over the place when it advances their pernicious racialist agendas. In fact my policy is to look for the money whenever someone steps up as the self-appointed critic of Barack Obama, our first black president.

In this respect the Smiley West tour does not pass the SMELL test for me. The Smiley West poverty tour with its unashamed "Sock it to Obama" theme certainly is something that would warm the hearts of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey. Further, the corporation funded institute ALEC when it is not writing Voter Suppression legislation for Republican controlled state governments is always on the lookout for any freelance projects that can effectively be used to help "swift boat" the 2012 re-election campaign of Barack Obama. Now it is well known that Tavis Smiley has long had extensive corporate connections who have funded all of his projects in the past. What I need to know is just who is writing the checks to fund the Smiley West poverty tour?

Lastly the very public feud between Dr. West and Dr. Laurence Summers, the president of Harvard during the time that Cornel was on the staff at Harvard. The feud became so heated and nasty that it finally ended when Dr. West resigned and returned to Princeton. Dr. West was a strong supporter of Barack Obama and even campaigned on his behalf in 2008. However west’s endorsement of Obama all changed in 2009 when Obama appointed Dr. Summers to be the Director of Economic Council in the White House? Was it just a coincidence that after the appointment of Dr. Summers in 2009 that Cornel West started his personal quest to publicly attack president Obama for unacceptable incompetence and unforgivable neglect of the black community?

IMHO these questions must be answered before I personally start listening to the rhetoric coming out of the Smiley West Poverty Tour.

nomad said...

'Sorry but I am not buying the "corporate god " theme'

Wherentheheck did that come from? I never said anything about god. Or that the white man was all that. I said black people were the victims of a "corporate" hoax, just like the whites that voted for Obama.

nomad said...

"As black folks we must very careful who we listen to in this day and age of the super wealthy corporate oligarchs"

Yes, you're right. Trust no black person but Obama.

Weird Beard said...

CD- Thanks for opening up the discussion on the poverty tour, I was hoping it would get a little play on your boards. I am curious to hear more about your feelings/thoughts/insights on the matter.
BrotherBrown- I like your take on the situation, your points are one's that call for us to hold the president accountable without demonizing and spinning off into conspiracy muckity muck.

To others, I may ask "what went wrong here?" Is it that Washington is so effed in the A that any person no matter what their original intent would get bogged down in the mire of corporate/white quicksand? Or is it something particular about Obama that gives him an Achilles heal for big business and militarism over the needs of the people? Is it that America herself is so entrenched in greed and power that one plays along or is cast aside at that level?

Anonymous said...

Whoa! good points. West is catching a lot of hate. I'm on the fence with this thing.

We need to be doing more to get under Congress' ass. Obama is NOT King. But he can do something.

Ta-Nehisi Coates continues to blast at Cornel and nem.

Any thoughts on what's up with dude? I like his blogs, but he's kinda hard on West especially?

Oh Crap said...

remain uncomfortable about the Invisible Manesque battle royal aspects of the Cornel West vs Obama fight.

I know just what you mean. To a large extent CW doesn't have any control over it; that's function of invisible manning/tokenization in the first place.

But I find a lot of white progs suddenly trotting "Cornel West" out (the stick to beat Obama, not the actual scholar, thus the scare quotes) as some kind of authentic Black man in contrast to Obama.

It's like Malcolm vs MLK, they tell me. Rotfl, like they know jack crud about either Malcolm or MLK.

I find it awful, and amusing.